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Architects’ questions on design, sustainability for federal candidates

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), which advocates for excellence in the built environment, would like to see architecture and urban design addressed by candidates in the current federal election campaign. According to RAIC, the way we plan, design, build and integrate our buildings and infrastructure has a “significant impact” on quality of life, the economy and the environment. The federal government, as the largest owner of land and buildings in the country, has an obligation to set “the highest standards” of excellence and environmental sustainability. That obligation encompasses giving Canadians value for their money, as well as positioning Canada as an international leader.

All parties have made promises to give cities more money and to assist in upgrading the country’s infrastructure. However RAIC is focusing on four issues that only indirectly concern funding for infrastructure. The architects highlight four public policy issues and pose four questions which could be asked of candidates during the rest of the campaign.

Sustainability: Challenge 2030

RAIC endorses the 2030 Challenge, an environmental position first taken by the non-profit US think tank, Architecture 2030. The Challenge asks the global architecture and planning community to adopt certain measures aimed at slowing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Among these measures is the target that all new buildings and developments keep energy consumption and emissions at 70 per cent below the standard in place for that type of building. That standard rises to 80 per cent in 2020, 90 per cent in 2025, and 100 per cent—carbon neutrality—by 2030. Meeting these targets can be achieved, says Architecture 2030, by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-sire renewable power, and purchasing renewable energy.

RAIC says Canadian architects have demonstrated that energy consumption and associated costs can be reduced “dramatically,” with benefits including a healthier environment.

RAIC’s question: Do you support the 2030 Challenge for new or majorly renovated federal buildings?

First Nations

According to RAIC, the federal government exercises “almost total control” over design and construction of First Nation communities on reserves. The results are not always optimal. In fact, conditions on some reserves have been compared to those in third-world countries or refugee camps, with basics such as clean drinking water and fire protection unavailable to inhabitants. The situation could be improved, says RAIC, if planners and designers paid more attention to architectural expression, economic sustainability, and environmental conservation.

The question: How should Canada address this situation?

Smart investment

On a more purely aesthetic point, RAIC says that beautiful architecture and “treasured landmarks” are a necessary part of the national identity. The millions of dollars spent annually on buildings and infrastructure by the federal government can be an investment in the quality of the cities and towns where they are built, “at no extra cost to taxpayers.” Well designed, well-built public buildings that are beautiful and interesting will attract tourists and win international recognition. They are the heritage buildings of the future.

The question: Do you agree design excellence must be a high priority for federally funded projects?

Community mailboxes

A design issue with great power to divide communities, and, according to RAIC an example of heavy-handedness on the part of Canada Post, community mailboxes are “widely seen” as a blight on the streetscape, a public safety hazard and an obstacle to the elderly and disabled.

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre took the extraordinary step of destroying the concrete foundation of one of these community mailboxes being installed in a Montreal park. Coderre said his move was a protest against Canada Post’s lack of consultation with the city. An angry Coderre scoffed at Canada Post’s claim that it was consulting. “They’re doing what they want, savagely, and they’re arrogant.”

RAIC’s question: Is this the right decision for Canadian communities? If not, what solution can the federal government bring?

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